Stretches for the hamstrings, and how to protect the SI joints while stretching

Okay, so I’ve recently discovered the Pain Therapy Youtube channel, and I’m all about it right now.

Often when I look online for resources to share, I find I can only really use about half of what the person’s saying, and the other half is gibberish.  Not this channel.  I approve of everything I’ve seen from it, which is why I’m sharing it with you.

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Below I’m sharing a few videos from Pain Therapy which all demonstrate how to stretch a very important group of muscles — the hamstrings.

The hamstrings are a pretty major muscle group in the body– they run up and down the back of your thigh, connecting the back of your knee to the bottom of the pelvis.   (Technically there are three hamstring muscles, as you can see in this diagram).

Pulled_Hamstring (1).png

When the hamstrings are tight, they can contribute to SI joint dysfunction by pulling the hip bone backwards and down, out of its optimal position.  (In fact, I think the hamstrings are the #1 most referenced muscle group, in all of the articles I’ve read about causes of SI joint dysfunction).

The best way to keep muscles from getting tight, of course, is to stretch regularly.  Ideally, you want to stretch after you’ve done your workout as well as a gentle cool-down.  Your muscles will still be warm from your workout, but you want to bring your heart-rate down gradually, instead of just stopping.

After you’ve done your cool-down is when you want to stretch.

Ways to stretch

Once I had developed SI joint dysfunction, I found that a lot of the stretches my first few physical therapists prescribed actually made me worse (that’s because I had the bad luck of seeing PT’s who weren’t really familiar with SI joint dysfunction– more on that later).

It’s not that the stretches they gave me were “bad”– it’s simply that, once my SI joint ligaments had been sprained, they couldn’t handle getting in to the positions I needed to be in to do those stretches.

What I finally learned, with the help of my fifth physical therapist Paula, is to find ways to stretch that limited the negative impacts on my SIJ’s as much as possible.

I found that the best stretches allowed me to keep my SI joints supported and my weight evenly balanced. 

When you stretch, you only want to stretch your muscles— you NEVER want to stretch the joint itself.  If you stretch the joint, you’re really just stretching out the ligaments, which you actually want to heal and tighten back up as much as possible.

So, the key to stretching is to find ways that allow you to stretch your muscles while impacting the joint itself as little as possible.

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Below are some some videos from Pain Therapy which demonstrate various separate ways to stretch the hamstrings.  ALL of the videos I’m including here are totally correct and, generally speaking, safe ways to stretch.  I would never include anything on this blog that I thought was factually incorrect.

However, things are a little different when you have sprained SI joint ligaments– and that’s what I’m here to explain in this blog post.

Stretches where the SIJ’s are supported

These first two videos are the stretches that I do.  Whether you’re sitting down in a chair or lying on your back, you can see that your two SI joints are both more or less supported.  You have your weight divided almost equally across both sides of your pelvis, and both SI joints:

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For me personally, the top two ways of stretching work much better than the following stretch.  I really mean nothing negative against the next video at all– again, I would never include anything here that I really thought would steer you wrong.  This is a perfectly legitimate way to stretch that I’m sure I’ll prescribe to *some* of my future PT patients someday.

However, in my personal journey with SI joint dysfunction, I would stick with the stretches in the first two videos above, rather than this last one.  Why?

When you’re standing up like this, the SI joints are not supported, unlike the other stretches where they’re resting on a surface.

Body Weight

Another thing to keep in mind is that when you do a stretch like this last one, you’re placing a lot more of your weight on the back leg versus the front leg.  And the more weight you put on one side, the more stress you are putting on ligaments on that side that have potentially been sprained.  So, in general, I found that it was less stressful on my joints to try to stay in my positions where my weight was as balanced as possible.

So, in a nutshell:

You want to aim for a stretching routine that allows your SI joints to be supported, and also allows your weight to be distributed between the two joints as evenly as possible.

I’m grateful to my PT Paula for showing me so many different ways to stretch, and helping me to see that if a certain way of stretching didn’t work for me, there were other ways I could stretch the same muscles.

Having the right place to stretch is important

As I’ve mentioned previously, another factor that held me back from pursuing a thorough stretching routine for a long time was simply that I didn’t have the right surface to do my stretches on.

It seemed so easy to stretch at physical therapy, where they had special tables set up at just the right height to get on and off.  At home was another story– my bed was too soft, and it often made my SI joints lock up if I just tried to get down onto the floor.

That’s why I was so grateful when I finally discovered this stretching table from Sierra Comfort.  I’ve had mine for a little over two years and I totally love it.

IMG_3638

Once I owned this table, it was easier to do the things I needed to do to move forward with my life, without wondering if I was inadvertently going to make things worse in the process.

Okay, I’ve covered a lot of information in this post, so I think that’s all I will say for now. 

If you want to read some of my previous posts about stretching, you can check out:

Hope this was helpful!  If you have any questions, you can always leave a comment below or email me at sunlightinwinter12@gmail.com.

7 thoughts on “Stretches for the hamstrings, and how to protect the SI joints while stretching

  1. Gail Purcell says:

    I am so glad I found your blog. I have SI joint injury and a stuck L5 since being rear ended in 2013. A recent MRI also revealed torn hamstring tendons. I sought out a PT that does the MET, but have found that the exercises that they have me do have only destabilized me even worse. (My pubic bone was out of place last time.) They have put a belt on me to help the SI joints and I have stopped doing there exercises. The bridge gave me a Charley horse in my right hamstring muscle, and it hasn’t recovered yet. It sounds like aquatic therapy could be the way to go. I am also curious on what movements did you have to modify to keep the SI joints from going out? I have the added complication of injuries to my neck from the auto accident and fibromyalgia. When I look for someone who does aquatic therapy, what should I look for?

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    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Gail, thanks for letting me know my blog was helpful! I have found that a lot of exercises that PT’s can prescribe for the SI joint are technically “correct” exercises to strengthen the relevant muscles, yet somehow don’t take into account the fact that the ligaments in the area might be sprained and not able to withstand the necessary forces involved. This is *exactly* why aquatic PT is so great.

      I would definitely recommend hamstring stretching (you came to the right place, clearly!) as well as massage to the area, if that’s practical for you. This is also a great tool for self massage: you basically use it on your muscles like a rolling pin: http://amzn.to/2Bpu1Bm

      In terms of what movements I modified: in my daily life, just about all of them. I had to particularly be careful of anything that involved twisting throughout the torso– that was the worst. So, for example, I’d never do my grocery shopping on a busy Saturday morning when I’d have to squeeze through aisles full of shopping carts– I’d do it on a weeknight or schedule grocery delivery.

      Here’s a post where I elaborate on some more of what I found to be the worst motions: https://sijointsaga.com/2017/07/12/positions-where-the-si-joint-is-more-or-less-stable/

      When you look for someone who does aquatic therapy– the ideal, of course, would be to find someone who understands the SI joint. However, I realize that isn’t always possible, so beyond that, I’d look for someone who, based on personality, is willing to meet you where you are and has an open mind, rather than dictating a bunch of exercises that might work better for someone *without* SI joint dysfunction. My PT was familiar with the SI joint, but I think it was actually even more important that she was very creative and never ran out of ideas for how to modify my stretches and exercises.

      There is a really innovative type of aquatic physical therapy known as the Burdenko Method. It’s pretty popular where Iive in the Boston area, but I think it’s becoming more well-known in other areas as well.

      Hope this helps– let me know if you have any more questions!

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  2. Zuzana says:

    Hi an thanks for your blog, it’s very helpful. I was diagnosed with large herniated disc in June and from then my life changed a lot. From very active person doing tennis, volleyball, joga, swimming and running I now struggle to do easy household chores. I think because I often carry heavy furniture /I refinish furniture/ my body tried to protect my disc by putting more pressure on my SI joints and here I am now, diagnosed with SI joints disfunction. All those month the only thing that was helping was simple aqua therapy and some Pilates exercises. I just found your blog and trying to understand what’s going on, looking for more exercises to do, but some of them aggrivate my disc pain. I just saw Burdenko method on YouTube. Is this method what you did to get better? Looks good, but I am afraid some of them are going to be hard on my disc. Have you tried inversion table? I used it for my disc pain, but last time I got serious spasms right in my SI joint /I think all my SI joints problem started then/ and now I am afraid to try again. Just want to thank you for writing your blog, that’s all! Because of you I found out about MET, just need to see my chiro one more time to confirm my pelvis position. Thanks

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    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Zuzana, so glad my blog has been helpful to you! Yes, I worked with a physical therapist who had been trained in the Burdenko method. The right PT will be able to tailor the exercises to meet your specific needs– definitely don’t just do exercises off of Youtube 🙂 The links I share here are mostly to give you an idea of what your options are, when you look for treatment with someone licensed!

      I haven’t tried an inversion table but I personally have always avoided anything that would put a lot of stress on the joint, even if it was in the name of “therapy.” This is why I also recommend people avoid high-intensity chiropractic adjustments as well. Sometimes, even though a treatment can put your joints into the right place, it can be too rough on your muscles and ligaments and cause a setback, as you experienced.

      The reason people use an inversion table is to get the benefits of something called “traction”– it creates space within joints that have been compressed. You can actually do this in a pool, as well, without a machine– and it’s much, much gentler. This concept is actually a key part of the Burdenko method. Here’s a post where I talk about it more– hope this helps! https://sijointsaga.com/2017/06/07/traction-sacroiliac/

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  3. Dia says:

    Your blog sounds kind of like my life story. I’ve been dealing with terrible pain in my pelvic/glute area for 3 years now, gone to countless specialists and PTs, and I’m now learning that those PTs were telling me harmful things, like to stretch hip flexors when actually my hip flexors are weak and my hamstrings are what is tight. The pain is actually more ligament than joint based, but it all happens throughout my day. I would express having more pain in new areas after stretching what they told me to and they brushed it off. Now, I’m concerned about permanent damage, but at least now I know stretching my hamstrings at least helps rather than hurts. Finding PTs that know the difference between anterior tilt and swayback is a problem. Your blog has been hugely helpful, so thank you!

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    • Sunlight in Winter says:

      Hi Dia, I’m sorry to hear about all this, but I’m so glad my blog has been helpful! And that’s great that you’re finally finding the right people to help you. I wish you the best of luck as you continue your healing journey– feel free to let me know if you have any questions!

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